Swan song



“WHERE’S your column?”

A relative asked me this decades ago when I excitedly told her that I had just been hired as a news reporter. She was unimpressed when I answered that I had none.

Many people, like my relative, cannot distinguish between a reporter and a columnist. A reporter writes news while a columnist writes opinion. Only those who have achieved a certain degree of excellence in their chosen field and are able to write well can be a columnist.

I’m very thankful to The Manila Times for making me feel included in this select circle when it invited me to be a columnist more than a decade ago. I had been covering the legislature since 1983 and TMT editors and management led by Dr. Dante A. Ang Sr. believed I knew about it enough to write the twice weekly “Inside Congress” column.

Unfortunately, even good things must come to an end. When writing a column has become so laborious I have to grope for several minutes for appropriate words that used to come to me like the flow of a river, then it’s time for me to hang up my pen. I told DAA and his son, Klink Ang, a week ago that I would write my last column this March.

I hope my readers will spare me the brickbats for writing about my journey in journalism in this, my last column.

I was features editor, then news editor of The Varsitarian, the official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas where I finished journalism cum laude. I worked for several newspapers, the longest of which was with The Philippine Star (17 years). My most satisfying workplace, however, was with TMT where I never got upbraided for my write-ups and where I never got orders on how to write my stories.

I have often been asked how I liked being a journalist. “It’s better than working for a living,” I usually answered.

Indeed, when you enjoy what you are doing, it never feels like you are working. I could spend late hours waiting for the final approval of a budget or for hearings in the impeachment trial of Erap Estrada and yet, I never felt tired through the whole stretch.

I may be of a different mold for I preferred writing to editing other’s stories. In the late 1990s, the late Mrs. Betty Go Belmonte wanted me to be the managing editor of the Star. She announced this in a staff meeting and I was told that this was well applauded. Cris Martinez, the acting managing editor, showed me the new staff box with my new title.

I then wrote a letter to Mrs. Belmonte thanking her for her confidence in me but that I was begging off from accepting the new position. I said that while I was confident of my writing ability, I believed I was not good enough to manage a paper.

“I don’t want to be promoted to my level of incompetence,” I wrote, so I ended up being a senior reporter/senior deskman, but with the privilege of reporting only to her. The news editor, associate editor and managing editor had no authority over me.

My life as a journalist could have taken a dramatic turn had I accepted Mrs. Belmonte’s offer to be the managing editor of the Star. I have no regrets, however. As I have said, I enjoy writing more than editing.

Perhaps, even my personal fortune could have changed. I pride myself in being the highest paid reporter of the Veritas newsmagazine, the Star and TMT when I worked there. Yet in all those years, I had never had the pleasure of owning a brand-new car. I have no credit record because my wife believes in buying cash to save on interest payments—and I couldn’t afford the cash purchase of a new car. My present vehicle is a 1996 model minivan that I bought in Subic in 2003.

Journalism isn’t a high-paying job. None could earn as much as Mocha Uson who can make P300,000 per show, and she might perform several shows in a month. The entry pay of teachers, soldiers and policemen could even be higher than that of new reporters. Nevertheless, there’s a host of journalists who soldiers on, never regretting their choice of profession. I feel proud to be counted among them.

I carry this pride even as I write my last column.

“Now, I will fully retire from journalism,” I told Dante Ang with a heavy heart.

“No, you are not yet retired. You may still write features for us when you have the time,” he said.

Oh, I guess I won’t hang up my pen completely yet. As the saying goes, once a journalist, always a journalist.



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1 Comment

  1. “I don’t want to be promoted to my level of incompetence.”

    This, Efren, is a must-read for all professionals who who are in search of excellence.

    Hats-off to you, for choosing self-actualization over material glory. Pray that the AC/DC journalists follow your footsteps.